The challenges faced by same-sex couples in accessing IVF drive an urgent need for equitable healthcare and policy changes, says Sarah Dyke MP
I recently spoke in a debate in Parliament on the provision of IVF for same sex couples.
In the UK, 90 per cent of the Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) require female same sex couples to self-fund six cycles of intrauterine insemination (IUI) before they are eligible for IVF, leaving them to face extreme and often inhibitive costs. One cycle of IUI costs £3,000 – and many couples will undergo six to 12 cycles of IUI, leaving them to pay between £19,600 and £25,000 before they are eligible for any NHS fertility services.
Somerset ICB will fund nine cycles of IUI, but only one cycle of IVF to eligible women aged between 23 and 40 – well below the NICE guideline of three full cycles. Only four of the country’s 42 ICBs currently provide equal access to same sex couples and do not require self-funding.
It’s later than you think
Same sex couples face a system that makes undergoing artificial insemination costly and arduous. I have been told by friends about the emotional impact that this has on them, when they feel like they are in a fight with a system that discriminates against them and does not understand them.
There should of course be equal access for same sex couples across the nation’s health care providers and I hope to see this reflected in the next NICE Guidelines in 2024.
The government’s Women’s Health Strategy has pledged to remove barriers faced by same sex couples, but has set a ten-year development goal. Having spoken to people involved in the industry they fear that this will be pushed back even further. This would mean that many more LGBTQ+ people who want to become parents will be left feeling disenfranchised under the current system as they are unable to afford the huge costs involved in fertility treatment.
Every year that goes by has a real impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ people – more than 60 per cent of whom either want children, or already have them.
It should be noted that women’s fertility rate peaks in the mid-20s and drops rapidly after 35. Many women now choose to have children later in life, with the average age of new mothers in 2021 being close to 31.
A delay implementing the Women’s Health Strategy will have a real and significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community’s ability to have children, as they continue to navigate the difficulties embedded in the current “postcode lottery” system.
While this discriminatory system exists, the LGBTQ+ community are being put at a significant financial disadvantage at the very start of their journey into parenthood.
The current system can also drive same-sex couples towards potentially unsafe methods, such as seeking sperm donors who may not be known to them.
Not only can this place women in danger, but if the woman is not married or in a civil partnership then the donor will be considered the legal parent of any children, giving him rights over, and responsibilities for, the child.
We need a fair and equal IVF treatment programme that is equitable for all.